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Retail ‘Won't Tackle The Labor Shortage Until It Reverses Decades Of Worker Neglect And Becomes A Viable, Long-Term Career Again’

Published Monday, November 29, 2021
by Mary Hanbury/Business Insider
Retail ‘Won't Tackle The Labor Shortage Until It Reverses Decades Of Worker Neglect And Becomes A Viable, Long-Term Career Again’

After 15 months of working in a pandemic, Michael quit his job as an Associate at a furniture store in Arkansas in May 2021. He'd reached breaking point.  Long shifts hauling furniture around the store, unpleasant customers, inconsistent scheduling that made his home life hard, and a rat infestation that wasn't addressed for months in the store had taken their toll on his mental health.

Michael, who requested his last name remain anonymous - but whose identity is known to Insider, said he tried his best to get along with managers and supervisors, "but at the end of the day, poor communication, unrealistic expectations, and looming punishment for not meeting certain standards is the end-all of healthy work dynamics."

"Unemployment is scary, but I knew there had to be more to life than this," he told Insider. "There had to be more to life than getting screamed at by random strangers.  There had to be more to life than retail."

Michael is among thousands of Retail Workers who’ve quit their jobs this year - hoping to move to better-paying positions in more stable industries.

He has since accepted a new job as a Teaching Assistant at an elementary school, initially taking a pay cut, which he says is well worth it

While the "Great Resignation" was born out of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the sentiments behind it have been brewing for years in retail.

Decades of stores neglecting Workers has turned retail work into a CV stop-gap rather than a viable career, experts tell Insider - and it's now coming back to haunt the industry.

Retail and food service has been the sector worst hit by Workers quitting their jobs and now the industry faces a crippling labor shortage that became more intense as the holiday season approached.

Pre-1960s, working in retail was considered a solid, sustainable job, Marc Perrone - the President of the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), the U.S.'s largest Retail Worker Union, told Insider

The wages weren't the best but they also weren't the worst, he said, and when you factored in extra benefits - overtime, bonuses, pensions, employee discounts, medical, disability and life insurance - Workers felt like the futures of them and their families were taken care of.

These were attractive jobs.

But this began to change in the early 60s with the arrival of big-box stores such as Walmart and Target, whose business model was to offer low prices to customers by keeping labor costs down

It was also the start of a shift away from full-time to part-time work.

Stores realized they could hire double the Workers without having to pay overtime or benefits and could schedule employees' work around consumer demand. 

This had a huge impact on retail jobs, Perrone said - and for many people, it was no longer possible to make a sustainable living.

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